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Development. 1999 Jan;126(2):345-57.

Nuclear beta-catenin is required to specify vegetal cell fates in the sea urchin embryo.

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  • 1Developmental, Cellular and Molecular Biology Group and the Department of Zoology, Duke University, Durham, NC 27708, USA.


Beta-catenin is thought to mediate cell fate specification events by localizing to the nucleus where it modulates gene expression. To ask whether beta-catenin is involved in cell fate specification during sea urchin embryogenesis, we analyzed the distribution of nuclear beta-catenin in both normal and experimentally manipulated embryos. In unperturbed embryos, beta-catenin accumulates in nuclei that include the precursors of the endoderm and mesoderm, suggesting that it plays a role in vegetal specification. Using pharmacological, embryological and molecular approaches, we determined the function of beta-catenin in vegetal development by examining the relationship between the pattern of nuclear beta-catenin and the formation of endodermal and mesodermal tissues. Treatment of embryos with LiCl, a known vegetalizing agent, caused both an enhancement in the levels of nuclear beta-catenin and an expansion in the pattern of nuclear beta-catenin that coincided with an increase in endoderm and mesoderm. Conversely, overexpression of a sea urchin cadherin blocked the accumulation of nuclear beta-catenin and consequently inhibited the formation of endodermal and mesodermal tissues including micromere-derived skeletogenic mesenchyme. In addition, nuclear beta-catenin-deficient micromeres failed to induce a secondary axis when transplanted to the animal pole of uninjected host embryos, indicating that nuclear beta-catenin also plays a role in the production of micromere-derived signals. To examine further the relationship between nuclear beta-catenin in vegetal nuclei and micromere signaling, we performed both transplantations and deletions of micromeres at the 16-cell stage and demonstrated that the accumulation of beta-catenin in vegetal nuclei does not require micromere-derived cues. Moreover, we demonstrate that cell autonomous signals appear to regulate the pattern of nuclear beta-catenin since dissociated blastomeres possessed nuclear beta-catenin in approximately the same proportion as that seen in intact embryos. Together, these data show that the accumulation of beta-catenin in nuclei of vegetal cells is regulated cell autonomously and that this localization is required for the establishment of all vegetal cell fates and the production of micromere-derived signals.

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